Bonus Mission #2: Second Life means Business
.: A world where reality ceases to exist and imagination is key :.
The commonly conceived notion of games is usually one that is based on a mission for strategy games or may have a time frame in the case of arcade-style racing games. However, that notion has been altered with the introduction of Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG) such as Second Life (SL). SL does not have points, scores, winners or losers, levels, an end-strategy, or most of the other characteristics of games (“Second Life”, 2007). What SL has is its ability to allow thousands of users, or “residents”, to simultaneously communicate and participate in activities, change their environment by constructing new places or items and even engage in business transactions both on- and offline. Such sandbox-style play differs from other games as it allows residents to create anything and everything from scratch in a manner where their imagination knows no boundaries.
However, the residents of Second Life may see it as just more than a game, as seen by the increasing popularity of Second Life. Based on the homepage of Secondlife.com, the number of registered users in Second Life currently stands at 5.3 residents as of 7th April 2007, which means that it has engaged millions of players over a four year span since it opened its public beta version in April 2003 (“Second Life Through The Ages”, 2006). Though it misses the 7 million-mark (by close to 2 million) set by the widely popular MMORPG - World of Warcraft, the game’s audience is growing at about 38% month over month, according to its creator, Linden Lab (Kharif, 2006).
With SL becoming such a popular haven for many residents, it is no wonder that it acts as a marketing platform for most businesses. Calvin Klein’s ck IN2U, a fragrance for technosexuals, is already being marketed in SL. Even food has a part to play in SL. Domino’s Pizza will soon be accepting real-life pizza orders from within Second Life (Reuters, 2007). Hence, it can be seen that SL is more than a game, as not many games target their players by creating interactive areas in the game where users can explore and learn more about the products, or in this case, bring real pizza to your first life.
Besides marketing products on SL, companies have also decided to position themselves in SL for users to explore. The cover story for BusinessWeek Online in May 1, 2006 noted that “British branding firm Rivers Run Red is working with real-world fashion firms and media companies inside Second Life, where they're creating designs that can be viewed in all their 3D glory by colleagues anywhere in the world” (Hof, 2006). Even media companies are catching on by setting their virtual companies in SL. CNET networks, SL Herald, New World Notes and Reuters are just some examples of companies that want to send a multimedia message and be exposed to the young segment of consumers who spend long hours in virtual worlds (Kharif, 2006). Hence, what makes SL so popular to many corporations is the ability to program scripts to make the corporations look as realistic as the ones in our real life. Otherwise, most of the companies would have used other more well-established and popular games such as World of Warcraft to market and position themselves.
Telling the Residents what to think and not just what to think about!
Apart from the number of companies that eagerly rush to appear in SL, SL by itself has a rather robust virtual economy. With about 1.4 million transactions a month that is tax-free (for now), good and services are transacted based on Linden Dollars ($L), which are convertible to real dollars (Reiss, 2006). Based on the recent Linden/U.S. exchange rate of 252 Linden dollars to one U.S. dollar, the GNP of Second Life in September 2005 was L$906 million or U.S.$3.6 million. It is thus no wonder that residents like Anshe Chung made her fortune in land development business, which she has built from nothing two years ago to an operation of 17 people around the world today (Hof, 2006). Chung's firm now has virtual land and currency holdings worth about $250,000 in real U.S. dollars. The creator behind Chung’s avatar acknowledged that the virtual role-playing economy was so strong that it had to import skills and services from the real-world economy (Hof, 2006).
Besides the economic aspect that makes SL more than just a game, the social aspect also facilitates on the way virtual communities work in SL. With its immersive nature and compelling social dynamics, SL becomes a rich, persistent alternative world (Levy, 2007). Such MMORPGs foster a greater community spirit with guilds and in the case of World of Warcraft (WoW), when guild member Azeroth died in real life, “his grieving friends decided to hold a funeral for him inside the game” (Levy, 2007). While this may seem touching, friendships are easily forged in virtual games, considering the fact that many players spend hours glued to their computer screens. For instance, while stuck on Help Island in SL, it was easy for a noob like myself to befriend other players simply by chatting with another resident to inquire for directions or ask for recommendations on places to visit. Hence, it is no surprise that some relationships flower into marriage in WoW, with Tauren brides and Undead grooms tying the knot in some virtual tavern in Thunder Bluff (Levy, 2007). Furthermore, if physical exhaustion could kill a workaholic in real life, it was reported in Xinhua News Agency that one girl died of exhaustion after playing WoW for several days without a break (Levy, 2007). While games are often seen as fun and relaxing, they can kill when played to extremes. Thus, this serves as a warning to addicted SL residents who perceive the game as their “priority” life.
In conclusion, Second Life is clearly more than a game with its prospective economic growth and its rising marketing aspects for many corporations. Furthermore, the lure for individuals to be quick, virtual entrepreneurs makes SL different from other sandbox-style games such as The Sims or Grand Theft Auto. Together with the social aspect that online interactions facilitate communication with other residents in Second Life to form stronger ties, it is no doubt that the lines between the game and the physical realm are becoming blurred.
ReferencesHof, R.D. (2006, May 1). My Virtual Life. (Article posted on web site BusinessWeek Online). Retrieved April 7, 2007, from http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/06_18/b3982001.htm
Kharif, O. (2006, October 17). Big Media Gets a Second Life. (Article posted on web site
BusinessWeek.com). News Analysis. Retrieved April 7, 2007, from
Levy, S. (2007). World of Warcraft: Is It a Game? (Article posted on web site MSNBC.com). Retrieved April 7, 2007, from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14757769/site/newsweek/page/3/print/1/displaymode/1098/
Reiss, S. (2006). Virtual Economics. (Article posted on web site Technology Review). Retrieved April 7, 2007, from http://www.technologyreview.com/read_article.aspx?id=16023&ch=biztech
Reuters, A. (). Domino’s in Second Life: in 30 nanoseconds or it’s free. (Article posted on web site Second Life News Center). Retrieved April 7, 2007, from http://secondlife.reuters.com/stories/2007/03/09/dominos-in-second-life-in-30-nanoseconds-or-its-free/
Second Life. (2007, April 6). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 7, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Second_Life&oldid=120696573
Second Life Through The Ages. (2006, July 16). In SL History Wiki. Retrieved April 7, 2007, from http://www.slhistory.org/index.php/Second_Life_Through_The_Ages